H&S NEWS | Courts get tough on unsafe work at height

One week has seen three separate courts hand out heavy fines after unsafe work at height.

This includes:

  • Survey Roofing Group was ordered to pay more than £65,000 in fines and costs after two workers were seen on a Homebase store roof without adequate safety measures.
  • Broadley Roofing was fined £53,000 after a worker was injured in a roof fall.
  • Kier Facilities Services was fined £200,000 after a worker’s roof fall.

In the Homebase store incident, Cardiff Magistrates’ Court heard a Health & Safety Executive (HSE) inspector spotted two workers carrying out roof repairs on a 12.5m high pitched roof without sufficient safety controls in place.

A subsequent HSE investigation found the work created a risk of injury to:

  • employees from falling from or through the roof – suitable and sufficient protection measures had not been taken, such as completing the work from a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP)
  • members of the public from falling objects – the store had not been closed or cordoned off below the work area

The contractor, Survey Roofing Group Ltd, was fined £36,666 with over £28,856 in costs after pleading guilty to breaking the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

The HSE said ‘All work at height should be properly planned, including short-term reactive work, so workers and members of the public are not put at risk’.

Serious Problem

More than 4,000 people a year in the UK suffer major injuries working at height.

While most incidents are in construction, all employment sectors are affected. For instance, HSE data shows there have been five deaths in the last six years and over 3,000 injuries in the education sector.

Most of the major injuries were from falls of less than two metres.

What is ‘Work at Height’?

While a higher fall is more likely to cause injury, falls from lesser heights can still result in injury. The Work at Height Regulations do not therefore say you have to be working at a certain height for them to apply.

In fact, working at height means working anywhere, including at or below ground level, if there’s a risk of injury from falling.

Indeed, the law takes a risk-based approach to any height where someone might be injured – suitable precautions must be taken. This covers a wide range of circumstances including:

  • using a work platform, ladder or scaffolding
  • working on a roof or up a tree
  • working next to openings such as cellars
  • standing on a table or chair to change a light-bulb

Changing bulbs

Yes. even changing a light-bulb can be a serious business…

Bradford Council was fined £15,000 after a school caretaker suffered a crippling fall changing a bulb.

This begs the question as to whether anyone at your workplace has ever climbed on to a desk or wobbly chair to change a bulb or retrieve a box from a cupboard top?!

As an employer, you have a legal duty to protect employees and anyone else affected by your activities – even when involving seemingly mundane, everyday tasks!

Contact Ellis Whittam to find out how many workers it takes to safely change a light-bulb!

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